Entry 3: Signposts in Wonderland

In Lewis Carroll’s magical Wonderland, Alice approaches a fork in the road where she sees a cat sitting in a tree. Alice asks the cat, “Which road should I take?” "Do you know where you want to go?” inquires the cat. “No,” says Alice. To which the cat replies, “Then any road will get you there.” 

To avoid being the proverbial Alice, I have finally assembled an outline for my thesis. A bona fide plan with chapter headings no less. At long last I feel that I am on top of this (well for now at least!). While the last 6 weeks have felt a bit like walking in circles (to clarify: I have been reading & thinking a LOT but the amount of pen to paper/fingers to keyboard time feels like it has been rather...lacking), the direction is finally set & the signpost clearly reads: 'thataway! at'em girl!'

Draft Title

Literary Approaches to Leadership Development: Using Women’s Literature to Explore Contemporary Leadership Issues

Chapter 1: Introduction

Approx. 1,000 – 1,500 words

  • Background on this topic & field
  • Justification for my research
  • Guiding research question: “How can women’s literature and the feminine ‘voice’ be used in leadership development programmes to improve leadership practice?”
  • Key themes: Gender & leadership development
  • Outline/plan

Chapter 2: Leadership

Approx. 6,000 words

  • Definition based on Donna Ladkin’s research of ‘The Leadership Moment.’

Leadership, as I conceive it in a business context, is the process of mobilising people effectively and efficiently so as they can work collectively towards a common purpose, goal or objective. But rather than being something that occurs through the agency of a single ‘leader’ figure; followers, context and the purpose to which effort is directed, all contribute to leadership’s occurrence (Ladkin 2010).

  • Discussion on emerging approaches to leadership (i.e. post-heroic leadership, social constructionism, collaborative leadership, etc…)
  • Discussion on leadership & the arts. Possible questions/issues to address:

-          What do the arts have to add to managerial practice?

-          How can the arts be of any interest to people who devote (or will devote) themselves to making organisations work efficiently?

-          What are the key differences in approaches

-          What do the humanities tell us about human nature?

-          The arts can “…foster curiosity about human issues and promote discussion of the values underlying human actions” (Arenas, 2006, p. 117).

-          Awakening an interest in civic issues and a sense of responsibility

-          Developing critical thinking

-          Promoting awareness of the ultimate values behind our decisions

What do the arts have to offer to leadership development? This paragraph from Management Education & the Humanities eloquently sums up what the arts have to offer:

“…extraordinary potential of analogic exploration, critical reflection and creative re-invention that these experiences offer in defining and addressing everyday management problems usually coped with by resorting or stereotyped routines. A humanistic culture will not provide administrators with the prescriptions or information that can be used immediately to solve specific problems, analytical or relational; nor will it enable them to take technically satisfactory decisions. But perhaps it will help them to evaluate events and persons with greater humility, to view phenomena from a broader perspective, to courageously confront the moral risks and responsibilities involved in doing their job, to rely constantly on a set of values rather than apply algorithms, and to give just as much importance to passion as to research, to wisdom as to competence” (Gagliardi & Czarniawska, 2006, p. 8). 

  • Rewritten version of ‘Literature Review’ from Research Project in Semester 1 


Chapter 3: Doing Gender

Approx. 6,000 words

What is gender & how does it influence leadership? Exploring points of tension in current leadership discourse:

-          Expectations

-          Perceptions & stereotypes (i.e. the Selfless Heroine, the Iron Maiden, the Queen Bee)

-          Power & status

-          Women’s ‘styles’ of leadership (i.e. relational & collaborative approaches)

-          Women & authenticity

-          Tokenism

-          The working wife & mother

-          Female ambition

-          Women’s leadership in crisis situations

-        Gender neutrality in leadership texts/invisibility

Feminist approaches to gender - Liberal vs. Cultural feminism:

Liberal Feminism: “From this perspective, a feminist is a person who believes that women are entitled to full legal and social equality with men and who favours changes in laws. Customs, and values to achieve the goal of equality. It emphasises the similarities between males and females, maintaining that give equal environments and opportunities, males and females will behave similarly” (Crawford, 2012, p. 9).

Cultural Feminism: “…emphasises differences between women and men. This perspective stresses that qualities characteristic of women have been devalued and should be honoured and respected in society. It views some gender differences in values and social behaviours as either an essential part of womanhood or so deeply socialised that they are virtually universal and unlikely to change” (Crawford, 2012, p. 10).

Tying it all together: A gender & humanities approach to leadership development

There is room to explore the gap in current research, since stories written by women which feature dynamic, fully-fleshed female voices are glaringly absent. [Refer back to literature review].

A few salient thoughts:

“By failing to counterbalance the shortcomings of agentic leadership with the feminine ‘other,’ these texts inadvertently overemphasise masculine understandings of leadership (Ahl, 2006).”

Instead of pitting ‘feminine’ against ‘masculine’ and romanticising differences, using women’s literature and adopting a feminine perspective simultaneously addresses the underrepresentation of women’s stories in this field, while also harnessing the ‘Other’s voice,’ a voice which has the potential to speak in more engaging ways about authentic & relational leadership. 

Chapter 4: Methods

Approx. 800 - 1,000 words

  • Guiding question: How will I read the texts? (considering the tensions between ‘literary critic’ and ‘management facilitator’). Reconciling interdisciplinary approaches. 
  • Thematic textual analysis based on an arts approach while simultaneously utilising the case study method so popular in business textbooks (modelled after Badaracco’s approach: Rather than providing ‘right’ answers, Badaracco encourages readers to ask thought-provoking questions and search “for explanations…by looking at themselves rather than blaming others”)
  • Pedagogical interpretative framework – Interpretative-based studies emphasise socially constructed realities, intersubjectivity, practical reasoning, and ordinary talk.
  • The value of reflective thinking as a method in leadership development. Reflective thinking is particularly important in leadership development, as through challenging our own assumptions, “we can develop more collaborative, responsible and ethical ways of managing organisations” (Cunliffe, 2004, p. 408).

Chapter 5: Findings: Chosen Texts

Approx. 7,000 – 10,000 words

  • Criteria for selection of women’s literary works (discuss my method for selecting stories; how did I find them? What criteria did I set? etc)
  • The process of choosing 3 – 5 texts from a pool of 12 appropriate stories (how do they work together? What are the unifying themes?)
  • Analysis of 3 set texts (applying the same framework to each story, approx. 2,000 words each)

Chapter 6: Results (2): Workshop(?)

The project could be enhanced through the use of leadership development workshops and/or a ‘book club’ with women in positions of responsibility. Women’s stories and leadership issues will be discussed and recorded in a group setting. This additional method of data collection aims to demonstrate how discussing literature can contribute to the development of leadership awareness and enhance practice.

Chap 7: Discussion

So what?

Providing a justification for & method by which women’s literature can be used to awaken curiosity and stimulate debate on gender-related leadership issues in organisations.